An anguished, yet hopeful, orchestral cry for justice…
Vince Mendoza – Freedom Over Everything – BMG Modern Recordings #538668092 – 55:45 – ****1/2
(Vince Mendoza – Conductor, composer, arranger; Czech National Symphony; Jan Hasenohrl – trumpet (#1, 9); Derek Hodge guitar (#5, 6, 7, 9); Paul Jackson, Jr. – guitar (# 6); Arm Kersbergen – bass (#1-4); Joshua Redman – tenor sax (# 4); Alexej Rosik – violin (# 8); Julia Bullock, vocal soprano (# 8); Antonio Sanchez – drums; Black Thought – rap vocal (# 6)
Orchestral jazz/ classical/Americana composer, Vince Mendoza is a national treasure. He is a six time Grammy winner, whose talents cross many musical genres. He has worked with a wide gamut of talents, ranging from Bjork, Joni Mitchell, Sting, Elvis Costello, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. His lush arrangements both inspire, and bring an auditory landscape that is deeply moving.
For his latest project, Mendoza has entered new territory. He has composed a concerto that tackles social justice issues that African Americans face on a daily basis, as well the 2016 national election and its profound effects on American life. Influenced by Martin Luther King’s remarks on “morality,” Vince incorporates rhythms and melodies of African American music (primarily Blues) into orchestral settings. Inspired by Dr. Cornel West’s writings Mendoza brings in rap artist, Black Thought, to express righteous anger on the title track. It takes someone with the gravitas that Vince Mendoza brings to take on all these issues in a classical/ jazz/ blues setting. The soundscape is rich and stunning,. Kudos should also go to Jonathan Allen, from the iconic Abbey Road Studio, who co-produced, recorded, mixed and mastered this project. Utilizing the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, the recording was done at the orchestra’s studio in Prague.
This release features a six part concerto, as well as the rap title track. In addition Mendoza includes “To the Edge of Longing,” which is based on verses from poet/novelist Rainier Maria Rilke. Sung by soprano, Julia Bullock, it is a counterpoint to the anguish expressed in the concerto. Written in 1905, it ends with… “Now here is the land, That they call Life. You’ll know when you arrive, by how real it is. Give me your hand.”
It is followed by the closing track, Mendoza’s love letter to New York City’s vibrancy. Titled “New York Stories,” it is replete with the sounds of a bustling city life, with lyrical pauses for ethereal lush “nature” retreats. Done as a concertina for trumpet and orchestra, it features trumpeter, Jan Hasenohrl, who is also the director of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.
The six part “Concerto for Orchestra” opens with “American Noise.” It moves from tentative opening strings to dissonance and back. The tension both intensifies, and abates seemingly in equal measure. “Consolation” and “Hit the Streets” have the strings and reeds expressing uncertainty, and a yearning for “meaning.” “Meditation” features tenor saxist star, Joshua Redman, with improvised choruses of passionate soulful blues.
The fifth section of the concerto (“Justice and the Blues”) opens with a Mendoza trademark, a glorious horn fanfare, as well as stirring strings. Vince is a master of this realm, comparable to Aaron Copland.
He enters new territory, mid tune, with rock guitar riffs, and dynamic drumming by Antonio Sanchez.
Even more dramatic is the use of rap artist, Black Thought, on the title track, “Freedom Over Everything.” He expresses palpable anger with his lyrics such as…”You’re either with the evolution or against it. The difference is prison gates or picket fences.” “When another man was slain, but ain’t nothin’ changed. Cause the sad reality is, it ain’t nothin strange..”
Mendoza ends the Concerto with “Finale,” and it is a welcoming conclusion with calming gentleness.
This project is a masterful work that expresses indignation, with calls for justice. But, there is a hopefulness that is inherent to the beauty that Vince brings to all his work. Here on this new release, Mendoza shines with a CD that demands attention, with profound themes expressed in rich orchestral settings.
Concerto For Orchestra:
Hit the Streets
Justice and the Blues
Freedom Over Everything (featuring Black Thought)
To the Edge of Longing
New York Stories
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